How Do You Know If You Live In a Police State?

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I was having a bad day. Then, I got pulled over for a burnt out tail light.

On a number of occasions during the ensuing stop, the sheriff’s deputy asked something to the effect of, “What’s with the attitude?”

For some reason, the deputy thought that I would be elated about the fact that I wasn’t harming anyone, yet a legal sadist with authority issues, a gun, and the presumed authority to use it pulled me over. He thought that I would like him shining his circus light show and spotlight on me, harassing me for a half hour, threatening to arrest me, and extorting money from me all for a light bulb going out.

No, I wasn’t happy — I was decidedly unhappy about the situation. And while this exemplar of law enforcement had the presumed authority to do what he did, I was under no legal obligation to like it. So, excuse me if I don’t ecstatically bow to the false god of the state and its tobacco-dipping minion.

What’s worse is that, while I was complying 100 percent, I could have ended up in jail or shot dead if I had let my baser instincts get to me. You see, a strange thing happens when you treat an innocent person like a criminal for no good reason: he starts acting like one. At one point, when I had my hands on the hood of the patrol car with a spotlight on me and Stranger Danger behind me frisking me, I could feel the natural fight or flight urge taking over. I could easily see how situations like these turn deadly. One false move on my part — one minor failure to comply — and I could’ve been tackled by the deputy and his gym partner, causing me to reflexively defend myself, which would’ve given them the authority to use deadly force. All for a tail light going out.

How is this, at all, acceptable in a civilized society?

Well, the answer is that we do not live in a civilized society. We live in a police state, and an arbitrary police state at that. It’s the same police state that allows hooligans to roam the streets of Berkeley, California, beating innocent people and firebombing private property. But I, who was not beating up innocent people or destroying private property, am somehow a criminal.

And in situations like mine, the gist of the police state can be felt. I wasn’t harming anyone, yet I was given a ticket, in essence, for not being nice or cheerful to the cop. If I hadn’t complied with the deputy’s extortion, I would’ve been arrested. If I had resisted arrest, I would have been beaten and possibly killed.

I was lucky — I didn’t get my property destroyed and I lived to write about the incident, but Heaven forbid if I had the wrong skin color. There are plenty of people, however, who have been thrust in that situation, not doing harm to anyone, yet end up in the morgue.  It is abuse of power plain and simple. It’s the arbitrary application of the monopoly of violence. In short, it is tyranny.

All of this abuse of power stems from the simple presumption of authority that the slightest of infractions can lead to engagement by law enforcement. And if you’re not perfectly compliant, and match their arbitrary standard of attitude, any engagement can lead to deadly force. Just ask the families of Darryl Vance Parker who was killed by Arkansas Game and Fish officers on the unfounded suspicion that he was hunting at night.  Or ask the family of Henry C. Taylor, who was killed while checking on his rental property. Or ask any of the relatives of the estimated 1240 people are killed by police every year.

Apologists will just say the cops were doing their job and if you don’t want to end up like Darryl or Henry, don’t break the law. Of course, it has almost become an axiom but the decline of civilization will be carried out by those just doing their jobs and the fact is that it is nearly impossible to go about your business in a normal day without breaking the law. Harvey Silverglate estimated that the average professional in America commits three federal felonies a day. And there are so many traffic laws, it’s hard to imagine that someone can drive at all without committing a moving violation. While I was stopped, I witnessed nearly twenty drivers roll through a stop sign. Some turned without using a signal. I was almost arrested as a result of a light bulb going out. How is that at all avoidable? Is there some everlasting light bulb that I haven’t heard of? There isn’t—damn you Edison! It’s almost as if legislatures write these laws in order to create criminals.

As Ayn Rand prophesied:

“The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”

How do you know you’re living in a police state? Is it that America has around 4 percent of the population, but over a quarter of the world’s incarcerated population? Or how about the fact that most police departments in the United States could succeed in invading many small countries? No. I live in one of the most dangerous regions of the world — New Orleans, Louisiana — but I haven’t been mugged, robbed, or manhandled by any criminal. The sad truth is that I’ve been harmed exponentially more by police than by criminals. When police are more harmful than criminals, that’s how you know you live in a police state.

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JSB Morse is a husband, father, author, entrepreneur, and philosopher. He has recently written "Paleo Family" with his wife and previously written the political thriller "Gods of Ruin" and the spiritual fiction "Now and at the Hour of Our Death". He is editor of "The Libertarian Catholic" and can be found at jsbmorse.com.